Richard Dinwoodie grins as he bangs down a case of Monteiths Golden Lager on his counter. “Ha,” he grunts, “The reps wanted me to taste one. Why do they always want people to have a sample? I know what the beer is like.”
“Monteiths?” I query. “The New Zealand brewery.”
Richard looks around for his packet of cigarettes. “Yeah. I mostly sell these types of beer, like the Dixie Beer and the Brooklyn Lager to the theme bars and restaurants.”
“And the beers on your stall?”
“I’m customer driven. Whatever people ask me to get I will.” He finds his cigarette packet and fiddles with it. “My best sellers are the St Peters beers.”
“It’s an attractive bottle.”
“Yeah. And I think they’re good beers.” He opens the cigarette packet and looks inside. “Of course, if I was choosing the beers by what I liked, the selection would be more Belgian.” There are cigarettes inside, but he looks troubled. He closes the packet. “When I started the stall the original intention was to sell English goods, including beer, to the tourists and office workers. The beer has taken over almost completely – though we do offer some wine and spirits. Come, have a look.”
Richard gives me a quick tour of his stall, which is spread out along the front wall of one of the green metal cages in Borough Market.
There has been a market in this area for longer than there has been a crossing here over the Thames. The actual position has changed over the centuries – during the Middle Ages the market famously sprawled onto London Bridge itself. In the 1700’s the nature of the market changed from retail to wholesale. Goods, including hops, would be brought up in bulk from Kent, or across from the continent, and then sold off into smaller amounts at the market to be dispersed across London. An act of Parliament in 1756 secured the present site, and the coming of the railway in 1836, with cargo trains following in 1839, ensured the market’s survival. A railway extension to Cannon Street in 1866 was built over the market and is responsible for much of the character (and noise) of Richard’s section of the market.
The busy wholesale market operates during the early hours of the morning and is finished by around 10 am. Following the success of a two-day Food Lovers’ Fair in November 1998, it was decided to utilise the unused time on the market site for quality food retail. Richard was one of the first to take advantage of the scheme, and opened his stall on the 4th December 1999 with just 40 items – now he has over 480 beers on display. The retail market was originally open just on Saturdays, but eventually extended into Friday – and now there are plans to open on Thursdays. The long term plan is have the retail market open 6 days a week.
<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/001.jpg> Richard Dinwoodie and a tasty selection of beers
We stop in front of the display of St Peter’s beers. Richard nods at the display. “I buy these direct from the brewery. Over 50% of the beers I buy are direct from the brewery. I then distribute them around London. St Peter’s found that I was selling more of their beers then they were themselves, so they gave me the distribution contract for London.” He finally plucks a cigarette out of the packet and pops it into his mouth.
“Have you always been involved with beer?”
The almost permanent grin gets wider. This is a man in love with his job. “I’ve been a pub landlord for many years. The last place was Bedlam in the Elephant & Castle. That helped when it came to getting the licence to sell alcohol here. The magistrates knew me, and the police knew me. Initially I had to have a temporary licence like they use for the Farmers’ Markets where the local brewers will sell their beers alongside the local cheeses and vegetables. But after a long period of going in front of the magistrates every three weeks to apply for a new licence, we decided to apply for permanent licence. I now have the only permanent off-licence for a market in Britain.”
The licence also allows Richard to sell beer direct from the cask into a carry away container. The nearest other shop to do this would be The Bitter End in Bromley, just south of London. Just a little too far for most visitors.
“Is this your full range?”
“O no. We have something like 1,000 different beers on the books,” he explains. “There are more stocks down in the cellar under the market. However, the bulk of the stock is kept at our Tower Bridge warehouse. From the warehouse we supply other shops like Gavin at OnlyFineBeer and Martin at the Beer Shop, as well as the theme bars and the restaurants like Maple Leaf in Covent Garden and the new Beer Circus in Croydon. Business is good.”
He sighs with satisfaction and finally lights up his cigarette. I buy a few beers, including a rare bottle of Sam Smith’s Strong Golden, and leave Richard as he starts to explain to a customer which of the beers are bottle conditioned.
Any visit to Southwark on a Friday or Saturday should include a stop at Richard’s stall. Indeed, if you’re visiting St Paul’s or the Tower, Borough Market is only a short walk over the river, and is worth the detour.